Norfolk Southern Appoints Industry Veteran John Orr as Chief Operating Officer

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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David C. Lester

ATLANTA –– Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) announced Wednesday the appointment of John Orr as executive vice president and chief operating officer, effective immediately.

Although this story is a bit out of our wheelhouse, we are watching and covering key developments in the effort by an activist investor group to assume control of Norfolk Southern and oust CEO Alan Shaw. As noted above, NS has appointed John Orr Chief Operating Officer, effective immediately.

Below is the press release from NS, with details about the appointment and the new COO.

 Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) announced Wednesday the appointment of John Orr as executive vice president and chief operating officer, effective immediately. Throughout his four-decade career, Orr has earned a reputation as a proven leader in applying scheduled railroading principles to drive sustainable long-term value creation. He spearheaded the turnaround of Canadian Pacific Kansas City’s (CPKC) Mexico operations by successfully implementing a high-efficiency operating model, shaped and guided the execution of Kansas City Southern’s (KCS) service-focused scheduled railroading initiatives, and drove significant improvements in Canadian National Railway’s (CN) safety and operational performance.

Orr will oversee Norfolk Southern’s railway operations, including safety, transportation, network planning and operations, engineering, and equipment maintenance. He began his career as a craft railroader and served as a union representative for 15 years. During his tenure at CN, Orr held a variety of positions including chief safety and sustainability officer and was recognized for driving numerous process improvements, mentoring programs, and progressive safety culture initiatives. Orr’s experience as a frontline railroader and an executive informs his approach to team building, employee development, and engagement with regulators. Ultimately, this enables him to drive new levels of safety, service, growth, and operating efficiencies. He will report directly to Norfolk Southern president and chief executive officer Alan H. Shaw. In connection with Orr’s appointment, current chief operating officer Paul Duncan departed the company to pursue other opportunities.

Amy Miles, Norfolk Southern’s independent board chair, said, “Alan, together with the board, took decisive action in recruiting John, an exceptional talent who will help accelerate the execution of our strategy and deliver results for our shareholders. John is a proven railroad operator, and we are confident he brings the right skills and experience to drive profitable growth over the long term. Importantly, he shares our commitment to the critical cultural transformation at Norfolk Southern that values our employees, customers, shareholders, and communities.”

John Orr, Norfolk Southern Chief Operating Officer (CPKC photo)

Claude Mongeau, Norfolk Southern independent director and former chief executive officer of CN, added, “Orr has a solid track record of operational excellence and, with four decades of broad industry experience, is clearly one of the most effective operating leaders in the rail sector. I’ve worked closely with John at CN as we first implemented scheduled railroading with a more customer-centric agenda, and I can vouch for his unwavering commitment to safety. I’m confident that he will help the NS team deliver on its balanced strategy to drive top-tier revenue and earnings growth at industry-competitive margins.”

Alan Shaw, Norfolk Southern president and chief executive officer, said, “John is a deeply respected and accomplished leader, and is the right chief operating officer to ensure execution of our strategy of balancing safe service, productivity, and growth. He has a proven ability to build strong relationships with customers, regulators, unions, and industry partners. His performance history as a disciplined and thoughtful operator makes him an ideal fit as we look to execute our balanced strategic plan that will deliver top-tier earnings and revenue growth at industry competitive margins. John recognizes a high level of service is critical to delivering for our customers and for sustaining growth. I have full confidence Norfolk Southern is positioned to execute our ground-breaking strategy, leveraging our unique franchise strengths.” 

Shaw concluded, “I want to thank Paul Duncan for the leadership, passion, and dedication he brought to Norfolk Southern throughout his tenure. His contributions were instrumental in enhancing our safety culture and improving our service product. On behalf of the management team, I wish Paul all the best in his future endeavors.”

John Orr said, “I have great admiration for Norfolk Southern and am honored to join this iconic railway at such a pivotal time in its history. I have deep respect for Alan and the transformation he is leading through the pursuit of an industry changing strategy. The company has an extraordinary network and I want to build upon the strength of the franchise. I am excited to work with the full leadership team and the company’s dedicated craft railroaders to enhance operating performance and strengthen Norfolk Southern’s industry leadership for years to come.”

Orr joins Norfolk Southern from CPKC, where he served as executive vice president and chief transformation officer, and oversaw network operations planning and design, labor relations, and regulatory affairs. In that role, he led the integration and optimization of operations following Canadian Pacific Railway’s acquisition of KCS in December 2021, including rapidly remediating the challenged Mexican operations by restoring service levels and resiliency, which resulted in significant operating improvements across train speed, terminal dwell time, car miles for care, locomotive productivity, and service experience for the customer. Prior to CPKC, he was executive vice president of operations at KCS, where he successfully executed precision scheduled railroading initiatives focusing on improving service. Orr is an award-winning expert and author in Precision Scheduled Railroading operations, having worked under Hunter Harrison for decades at CN, and was honored with Railway Age’s 2023 Top Influencer award.

He began his career at CN in 1985 as a conductor. Over the years, he held various operating and network positions at the company, ultimately being promoted to senior vice president and chief transportation officer. Orr holds a bachelor of arts in environmental studies from University of Waterloo and completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.

As a reflection of Orr’s unique set of skills and experience and his expected impact on long-term value creation, the company has entered into an agreement with CPKC that offers certain financial and commercial considerations in exchange for a waiver of his non-compete provisions. Norfolk Southern has agreed to a one-time payment to CPKC of $25 million, make certain commercial and operational considerations related to the Meridian Speedway and the Meridian Terminal, and abide by temporary non-solicitation and non-hire provisions regarding a short list of CPKC employees.

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